Jesus’s Recipe for Virtue

October 25, 2019

My first encounter with recipes was in high school. I had a required course called “Family Living.” It was a course designed to teach us necessary life skills. One assignment was to cook a meal at home for our family.

The first dinner I cooked following recipes was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Okay, I just heated the green beans, but the mashed potatoes were from real potatoes. I learned that following a recipe leads to a particular dish. When you follow the recipe for fried chicken you do not end up with meatloaf. Following a recipe also leads to a particular dish with consistency. All things being equal, if you or anyone else follows the recipe, the same results will occur every time.

I believe that Jesus has a recipe for virtue. What do I mean by virtue? Virtue has to do with moral living and goodness. If we follow Jesus’s recipe, we will develop into people of good character. For the goal is to be like him, conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29). And this recipe will work for everyone who tries it. There is consistency in results following Jesus’s instructions.

Jesus instructs us, “Follow me” (Mark 8:34). Jesus says this twenty times in the gospels. Following Jesus excludes other recipes for virtue or the good life, and competing recipes exist. Historically, the people of God have not always been good at following the Lord’s instructions. They have frequently borrowed from other recipes spoiling the dish. Following Jesus acknowledges him as the living, risen Lord. And this path to virtue requires a relationship with him.

Jesus also instructs us, “Deny yourself and take up your cross” (Mark 8:34). Luke helpfully notes that taking up your cross is a daily task (Luke 9:23). The cross was an instrument of execution, so Jesus’s words were shocking. But speaking of death appears to be a death to self, which compliments the command to deny yourself. Self-denial is certainly counter-cultural. Self-denial is putting Jesus and God first in our lives. Self-denial and dying to self is also putting sin out of our lives and filling ourselves with the things of God.

This is the basic recipe. Yes, there are other commands. But these instructions prepare us to follow Jesus anywhere he leads and do anything he commands. Following Jesus will lead to the virtuous and good life. If we are going to find the life that pleases God, we need Jesus’s recipe for virtue.

— Russ Holdern

In the House of Mourning

October 18, 2019

Ecclesiastes has a counterintuitive proverb: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV).

Obviously, it would be more fun to go to the house of feasting, and Ecclesiastes is not opposed to enjoyment. In fact, enjoyment is a gift of God (3:13). Yet, the house of mourning teaches us the brevity of life. Death may come suddenly, or it may be expected with the decline of aging or the wasting away from disease. But unless the Lord returns first, we will all die.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a celebrity or ordinary, wealthy or poor, wise or foolish. Death is a reality of life. The speaker of Ecclesiastes struggles looking at life under the sun. I suspect “under the sun” may suggest life from merely this world’s point of view. From that vantage point, we hear him lament:

Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:15-17, ESV

Although there are frustrations with life under the sun, life in this physical world, Ecclesiastes points us beyond it to a relationship with God. The final chapter encourages, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…” (12:1, ESV). Especially remember God before the decline of aging sets in. Ecclesiastes paints a vivid picture of aging with imagery from village life. Or at least remember God “before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken” – in other words, before death.

The reason for this command is that there is a purpose to life.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, ESV

What is the lesson that we should learn in the house of mourning? Prepare for death by living life to the glory of God. Don’t miss the whole purpose of life.

−Russ Holden

Freedom in Christ

October 4, 2019

Some people make me nervous when they quote scripture. It is because what they seem to mean by the verse doesn’t seem to be what the verse appears to mean in context. For example, consider Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

What some seem to mean is that their impulses so are so Spirit guided, they don’t need to worry about what scripture says. Now I’m not opposed to feelings and impulses. When I have impulses to give, serve, or speak a good word for Jesus, I’m endeavoring to act on those impulses. I do believe in God’s providence to put opportunities in our way. But feelings are not a test for truth. Hopefully our feelings flow from our acceptance of truth and are tested by truth.

So, what does Paul mean by freedom? It is helpful to look at other places where he explains his concept of freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, ESV)

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13, ESV)

For Paul, freedom in Christ is freedom from the bondage to law which condemns us when law is used as a means to salvation. We can’t be saved by our perfect law keeping (by merit), because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Our freedom in Christ is also the freedom not to sin. We have forgiveness of our sins by the atoning death of Christ, so our past burdens are removed. We have spiritual help in the present to aid us in the battle against temptation and to grow in Christian graces. Paul warns Christians of the two paths in life that we still face: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace…. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:6, 13, ESV)

Freedom in Christ is not freedom to do as you please and ignore scripture. Scripture, after all, is the Spirit’s inspired message. It is freedom from perfect law keeping and merit when we accept God’s grace in the atoning death of Christ. It is freedom from the bondage to sin, when we find and use the spiritual resources that God has richly provided for our victory. The journey in Christian living has taught me that this is true Christian freedom. The freedom to be the human being God intended me to be for there is found love, peace, and hope.

— Russ Holden